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Department of Mathematical Sciences

Seminar Archives

On this page you can find information about seminars in this and previous academic years, where available on the database.

Statistics Seminars: [RSS Meeting] Subjective judgements and transparency about uncertainty in policy making

Presented by John-Paul Gosling, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

9 November 2010 16:30 in CLC 202, Calman Learning Centre

When faced with a policy decision, government officials find
themselves in situations where 'objective' information is sparse and
they turn to scientific opinion to help inform their decision. The
scientists will often be asked for a number (some kind of best guess,
perhaps) and any uncertainty is ignored. By ignoring the uncertainty,
policy makers are prone to making decisions that could lead to
unexpected outcomes, which could prove costly. When there are data
available, error estimates are typically attainable; however, it is
difficult to quantify uncertainty in scientific opinion. In this talk,
I will show how formal expert elicitation techniques can be used to
capture the uncertainty about subjective judgements and give a
suggestion about how we can be transparent about the uncertainties
that the experts are unwilling to quantify.

I will describe an elicitation exercise that forms part of the recent
animal health bill on disease cost sharing. Since the foot-and-mouth
disease outbreak of 2001 in the UK, there has been debate about the
sharing of these costs with industry and the responsibility for the
decisions that give rise to them. As part of a consultation into the
formation of a new body to manage livestock diseases, government
veterinarians and economists produced estimates of the average annual
costs for a number of exotic infectious diseases. I will describe how
we helped the government experts to quantify their uncertainties about
the cost estimates. The results of the exercise have enabled the
decision makers to have a greater appreciation of the uncertainty in
this policy area.

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